Psychology Students Earn Right to Attend National Conference

September 07, 2010

Pscyhology_StudentsSaint Leo psychology students (L to R) Kristine Bauknight, Tara Baseil, Adaixa Padron, and Kristen Preseault, with their paper advisor and Psychology Department Chairperson Kevin Kieffer, Ph.D.

Four Saint Leo University psychology majors, all of whom aspire to attend graduate school, enjoyed the distinction of presenting a paper at the recent American Psychological Association annual meeting, held this year in San Diego.

“It’s exceedingly rare for undergraduates to present at a conference of this caliber,” said Kevin Kieffer, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of the Department of Psychology. Now the students, three sophomores and a junior, will be able to claim this accomplishment, and others they complete while undergraduates at Saint Leo, as they approach the next step of their careers. “It puts them in a different category when they’re applying to graduate school,” Kieffer said.

It’s not as rare at Saint Leo, though. The psychology faculty encourage motivated psychology majors to seek some role each year at the APA conference, the largest gathering in the field of study. In past years, for instance, a psychology student may have been able to make a solo student-paper presentation, or have a paper accepted to the conference for publication even if the student could not attend in person.

This year, the student researchers were all able to attend the mid-August convention, with their travel to California financed by the Student Government Union through the campus Psychology Club. “It was an opportunity that could not be turned down,” said Tara Baseil, one of the students. They made the trip along with Kieffer and with Assistant Professor Tammy Zacchilli, Ph.D., who is also advisor to the Psychology Club.

The Saint Leo students had worked on a “fun study,” Kieffer said. It was a replication study of 2009 research into the effects of information on consumer taste perceptions during wine samplings. In the first study, researchers wanted to know whether exposing consumers to some positive or negative information influenced their perceptions of how the wine tasted. The research suggested a greater influence when the information was given to consumers before they tasted their wine samples, rather than afterwards.

The Saint Leo team worked with a similar framework, but concentrated on whether consumers’ preference for beer could be influenced. The student-researchers conducted monitored beer samplings with individuals ages 21 and older. The taste samples were small: 1.8 ounces of a brand imported from Canada. (The full text of the paper is available from Kieffer at kevin.kieffer@saintleo.edu.)

For the conference, the students created a poster presentation and answered questions in an exhibition area. “Our poster presentation was scheduled for Friday (August 13) at 3 p.m. It lasted one hour, though it seemed to go by much quicker than that,” recalled Adaixa Padron; another student on the trip. “A number of people stopped by and asked to hear about our study in more detail, in which case we would take turns describing different aspects of it. We were even fortunate enough to meet and trade information with a psychologist from South Africa doing a study similar to ours. Overall, this trip has been one of the best experiences of my life,” she said.

Project opportunities are planned each year to provide this level of academic experience. “We find our psychology students are becoming more and more interested in research areas,” Kieffer said. In fact, the university has begun offering the Bachelor of Science degree in psychology, in addition to the Bachelor of Arts degree option. The distinction between the two programs is that the Bachelor of Science degrees requires more credits in psychology courses, specifying additional research courses, and is recommended for students who want to earn a master’s or doctorate in psychology.

The university has about 200 students at University Campus majoring in psychology, and about 1,000 university-wide. The Bachelor of Arts degree program is offered at many Saint Leo University continuing education centers, and through the Center for Online Learning.